I sometimes wonder whether most who regard themselves as ‘evangelical’, are far more liberal than they like to think.
‘Evangelical’ has become an emotive word of varied use. For most Christians today, to be evangelical today means that we take Scripture seriously. It means that our preaching, our worship, our discipleship is ‘bible-based’. But it seems to me, that if we follow such evangelicalism through to its logical ends, we end up in a place deeply unacceptable to most avowed evangelicals!
Sure, our Christian bookshops might be full of books helping us to ‘unlock’ the bible. Sure, our preachers might help us to ‘apply’ Scripture to our daily lives. Sure, we might want to learn how to ‘use’ or ‘master’ the text. But each of these supposedly evangelical habits treat the bible as something utterly distinct from who we really are. They are the idolatrous practices of a modern world bent upon using everything around as a ‘resource’, and the bible is no different. With such a worldview, scripture is something external to us, and we pick it up and use it and apply in ways that turn it into a mere puppet, no matter how ‘sound’ we might like to think we are.
Rather than attempting to extract that correct meaning that we may subsequently apply to our lives, the Bible invites us to inhabit a whole new world. This requires us to ditch the modern game of ‘extracting’ some raw truth from the bible which a good preacher might refine to serve our current worldview. Instead, we taste and touch and feel the hopes and frustrations of the prophets, the fear and the brokenness of the psalmists, the struggles and the celebrations of the historians, the wonder and disappointments of the Gospel writers, the anger and the joy of the letter-writers. These witnesses of God’s action, these biblical authors become our living companions.
This means that we need no longer go in search of biblical principles, or guidelines or proof texts. It means that we live and breathe Moses, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles. Not so that we have a bible verse for ever occasion but so that the ways in which we feel and hear and inhabit our world are already deeply formed by our walk with those biblical authors, at a pre-conscious level.
Perhaps, to be ‘evangelical’ is to forge a relationship with the biblical authors, so that they become our friends, our counsellors, our guides. They draw us into God’s presence. This is a far more dangerous encounter with God than anything we are likely encounter when God is trapped beyond the evangelical safety barriers we employ to protect ourselves from his living word. Such safety barriers sound solid and worthy – biblical principles, scriptural methodology, timeless truths – but they keep the living God at a safe distance from who we really are.
The Bible is not the record of what God said when he was going through a speaking phase. God’s word is alive and active now. Those of us who claim to be evangelical are in danger of filtering out God’s true word because we think we already know what the bible says. To be truly evangelical is to have no foundation, no certainty, no security, no place to stand but before the living Christ to whom Scripture points.
Published in BT, 2008